Album Review: SL Jones & DJ Burn One – Paraphernalia

Posted: May 27, 2012 in Album Review, Best of 2nd Q 2012, Hip Hop
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“Dope Man” – SL Jones & DJ Burn One

SL Jones is an emcee who’s continued to develop over the past half a decade.  Many listeners first became acquainted with him, along with Pill and others, as a part of Killer Mike’s Grind Time Rap Gang on I Pledge Allegiance to the Grind back in 2006.  Since then he put out a stellar debut album back in 2008 with C.O.L.O.R.S. and has dropped some stellar mixtapes/street albums over the past year including two versions of  The Number 23 mixtape, a free album Flight Risk, and a set of songs over Clams Casino instrumentals on Pandamonium: Rainforest EP Remixes (all of his material can be downloaded for free via Jonesy’s bandcamp).  While Jones has a lot of quality material out there, and has set himself apart as one of the south’s up and coming artists and the biggest name repping out of Little Rock, Arkansas, he – like mentor Killer Mike – had yet to work on a whole project with one producer until this most recent project.

Enter Atlanta’s DJ Burn One, a producer who has become one of the most sought after names for southern artists looking to create music in the legacy of greats like Organized Noize and the late Pimp C.  While there are a few other purveyors of fine country rap tunes out there, there are none currently doing it with the consistency and musicality of Burn One.  While K.R.I.T. certainly has an argument to dispute that notion, Burn One’s work with live instrumentation with iNDEED has really taken his technique to the next level recently.  Having produced for the likes of Freddie Gibbs, Pill, G-Mane, A$ap Rocky, G-Side, Bubba Sparxxx, Young Buck, Jackie Chain, Rittz, KD, and Starlito it is only a matter of time before DJ Burn One becomes a household name and a full on force in mainstream rap production, especially as the desire to revisit and progress the sounds of a bygone era continues to become more prevalent, as we’ve seen over the last couple years with the likes of SpaceGhostPurrp and Raider Klan affiliates like Lil’ Ugly Mane and others.  As powerful as Burn One’s work typically has been, he’s at his best on full length projects.  His work producing entire projects with iNDEED, Starlito, and G-Mane has proven his ability to create and direct great albums behind the boards.  In years past those projects likely would’ve already earned him the honor of executive producing albums at a mainstream level, with one label or another, but with the industry more focused on the single than ever, and a higher and higher percentage of the best full length projects being given away via bandcamp, datpiff, or livemixtapes Burn One remains appreciated as an industry tastemaker for his ability to locate and work with promising new artists, but under-appreciated (or at least underutilized) by rap’s mainstream for his abilities behind the boards.  However, if 2012 continues the same way it has begun for Burn One, that is likely to change quickly.

Burn One’s groundbreaking work earlier in the year with iNDEED (an EP so good that it begs consideration for album of the year here, despite its short length and rejection of the confines of rap music to such a degree it’s tough to define its genre at all, not that that’s necessary) provides a foundation for the approach Burn One takes on Paraphernalia.  Just as both Organized Noize and Earthtone III utilized a stable of in-house musicians to reach the pinnacles they achieved in the production realm, Burn One’s ample production skills are taken to new heights with live instrumentation courtesy of Ricky Fontaine, Walt Live, & The Professor.  While much of Paraphernalia is more contained and traditionalist than the free wheeling exploration of iNDEED‘s EP from March, Burn One and iNDEED take the opportunity here to push the musical envelope on frequent interludes once Jones has concluded his rapping and singing on each track.  This gives the producer and musicians here an opportunity to add a sense of both continuity exploration not possible on most rap albums, as well as expand upon the album’s relevant trippiness.

In terms of the the album’s content, thematically SL’s approach matches Burn One’s, holding steadily to the implications of the title, Paraphernalia.  In addition to plenty of the gangbanging descriptors to which SL Jones fans have become thoroughly accustomed, the songs on the album are littered with the imagery of drug use, withdrawal, highs, lows, and addiction.  Often SL effectively ties his own addiction to the streets and gangbanging lifestyle to the addictive traits of the junkies off whom he makes his living.  One of SL’s more endearing qualities has always been his ability to describe the intricacies of gang lifestyle while openly acknowledging its inevitable pitfalls and profoundly negative impact.  As a Little Rock resident with crip ties, SL has undoubtedly come to know this subject matter intimately.  It is the contradiction between SL’s understanding and his actions within his music, which makes him such an intriguing artist.  He knows the game he plays is stacked against him and his people, yet at the same time like the addicts he supplies, he can’t escape his path.  Jonesy considers this throughout the album, and here on the aptly titled “D.A.R.E.” and “T.H.C.” he directly reflects upon pitfalls of his lifestyle while considering the inescapability.  SL’s most impassioned observations come on “S.L.A.B.” (Slow Loud And Bangin’) as SL contemplates the role of racial inequity and prejudice in gang behavior while still acknowledging his own complicity in his fate as well and his role in the demise of those around him:

“I go beneath the surface, I can get under your skin / my brother buried alive, barely breathing under the pen / God forgive me for my sins, the judge won’t / the prosecution trying to take away what I love most / my family and freedom, can’t do without ’em, I need ’em / I had to almost lose ’em to learn how to treat ’em / this gangster shit is hereditary, I know how to breed ’em / I might be sick in the head, I’m coming down with the fever / still riding illegal, hoping out of that Regal / chasing the root of all evil, selling this death to my people / they say we’re separate, but equal – you get a good morning and a warning – I go straight to jail / they wouldn’t give us heaven, that’s why we’re raising hell.” – SL Jones “S.L.A.B.”

Jones is dynamic as a rapper, exercising more variety and range in his raps and singing than probably any artist this year short of ScHoolboy Q.  SL is comfortable moving between segments of humorous impressions of industry rappers and R&B artists (“L.S.D.“), a slowed & thowed R&B and rap one-man collabo (“Hella Trill AF“), a Big Rube-esque spoken word interlude (“Organized Confuzion“), and a Nashville-meets-autotune tribute to drugs of all kind (“Per Say“) over the span of only a few tracks without his approach seeming forced or gimmicky at any point.  Burn One’s ability to bounce back and forth between slowed down chopped and screwed homages (“Hella Trill AF” “T.H.C.” and “S.L.A.B.“) and uptempo trap music (“M.D.M.A.” “L.S.D.” “Dope Man“) and everything in between gives the album a nice musical range, accentuated again by the use live instrumentation and transitional interludes.  The sonic methodology at times certainly harkens to the approach of Organized Noize and Earthtone III on classic albums like Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik and Aquemini, while also incorporating influence from the work of Pimp C on classics like Ridin’ Dirty and the work of other Screw-disciple producers.  Lest someone think Burn One’s work is entirely beholden to his predecessors, its important to acknowledge the gumbo comes out distinctly modern and unique.  While Burn One is certainly influenced in methodology by his predecessors his work here is creative and does not come off as unoriginal or excessively derivative.   The result sits unequivocably alongside R.A.P. Music and 4 Eva N A Day and Mista Thug Isolation as one of the best albums to come from below the Mason-Dixon in 2012.

It is worth noting that of the projects reviewed on this website thus far, most of them have included one rapper and one producer (in some cases that’s been the same person) as Ka’s Grief Pedigree, Lil Ugly Mane’s Mista Thug Isolation, El-P’s Cancer4Cure, Killer Mike’s R.A.P. Music, Big K.R.I.T.’s 4Eva N a Day, Nacho Picasso & BSBD’s Lord of the Fly, and Young L’s Enigma Theory are all are the product of one producer’s (or production crew’s) work in collaboration with one rapper (without excessive guest appearances).  Only Billy Woods’ History Will Absolve Me and ScHoolboy Q’s Habits & Contradictions have managed to have received HardwoodBlacktop’s coveted “Best Of” honors without following the one producer, one rapper formula.  While the 1-to-1 formula is certainly not a prerequisite for HB’s attention, it can’t be mere coincidence either. For those of us who have begun to discuss what a great year 2012 has been thus far for rap music, it’s worth considering how often these products are the result of the collaboration between one artist or group and one producer or production crew.  In a rap world that’s been saturated by music from flavor of the week rappers with producer of the moment beats, and mixtapes crossing all boundaries of rap regionalism throwing aside any attempt of sonic continuity, the thirst from listeners for cohesive and well conceived complete albums has finally lead some artists to collaborate with just that in mind, producing some of the best music in years.  Whether this is a trend that will continue throughout the year and carry over beyond 2102 remains to be seen, but Paraphernalia fits firmly among these great albums that have come out this year.

  1. […] Album Review: SL Jones & DJ Burn One – Paraphernalia […]

  2. […] Album Review: SL Jones & DJ Burn One – Paraphernalia Archives […]

  3. […] iNDEED dropped the iNDEED EP, earlier this year, I made the remark in my review ,of the also 5PMG produced Paraphernalia album from Burn One & SL Jones, that the EP begged […]

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